Are neighbourhood plans boosting housing numbers?

Few in the sector have disputed the findings of a planning consultancy report claiming that neighbourhood plans have had a limited impact on boosting housing supply.

31 May 2018 by Joey Gardiner


A report from planning consultancy Lichfields published earlier this month threw considerable doubt on the government’s repeated claims that neighbourhood plans allocate on average 10 per cent more homes than their councils’ local plans. The claim was first made in 2015 and repeated in a written ministerial statement in December 2016 and again in last year’s housing white paper. Ministers have cited the figure in a bid to show that the documents have a positive effect on planning for new homes. 

How does this month’s report compare with the government’s research that produced the 10 per cent figure? Lichfields’ figures are certainly based on a greater amount of data. It analysed 330 adopted or ‘made’ neighbourhood plans – well over half the 542 now completed. In contrast, the government’s study was based on a 2015 study that looked at just 39 documents. 

Lichfields’ analysis found that just 15 neighbourhood plans – five per cent of the total studied – allocate more homes or set a higher target than the relevant adopted local plan. And for those 15 the additional planned housing amounts to just three per cent. The majority of neighbourhood plans – 60 per cent – allocate no housing at all. There is no requirement for neighbourhood plans to propose housing numbers or allocate sites, but where they do they are prevented by regulations from proposing fewer homes than are allocated in their local plans. "It is difficult to conclude," the report states, "that neighbourhood plans are boosting the planned supply of housing." 

Few in the sector dispute this finding. Jon Herbert, director at consultancy Troy Planning, said most areas plan positively, but added: "I’m not involved in any that are allocating more than they have to – it’s fair to say those are few and far between." The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government did not contradict the findings when asked, with a spokesman simply stating the government was "committed to giving communities more of a say in the development of their area". 

Developers and their agents feel that despite the rules stopping neighbourhood plans reducing housing numbers, they do often restrict development opportunities. This is in part, they say, because of the government’s commitment to protecting neighbourhood plan areas from speculative development by requiring only a three-year housing land supply to be demonstrated, as opposed to five years in other areas. 

Rico Wojtulewicz, senior policy advisor at lobby group the House Builders Association, said the neighbourhood plan preparation process "does not always reach those in need of housing and so their voice is not appropriately represented". He added: "In regions with higher house prices, there has been a feeling that neighbourhood plans can be designed to stifle development opportunities." Lichfields senior director Matthew Spry said: "Too many plans duck the big housing issues, and some actively plan to resist development."

Even supporters of neighbourhood planning accept that many of those who get involved are motivated, at least initially, by a desire to conserve particular sites. Gary Kirk, managing director of community consultancy YourLocale, said: "There are often sites that are sensitive locally that people want to protect." 

But while few dispute Lichfields’ findings about housing numbers, neighbourhood planning consultants reject the idea that the plans are actively frustrating development. Chris Bowden, director at consultant Navigus, said: "Communities now increasingly understand the need to plan for housing." 

With just over 2,500 plans in the system, supporters say the report underplays the success of community-made strategies in galvanising public participation. Measuring such plans only by the volume of housing they allocate misses their purpose, they insist. Community planning consultant Tony Burton said: "You can’t criticise neighbourhood plans for not dealing with housing – they have no obligation to, and lots choose to focus on other things." By giving residents an opportunity to shape the type and location of new housing, neighbourhood planning had made growth "more palatable" in many places, added Kirk. 

Some have claimed that Lichfields’ research indicates the general distaste of the development industry for neighbourhood planning. Neil Homer, planning director at consultancy ONeill Homer, said the report "fitted neatly into the overriding neighbourhood plan narrative from developers and their consultants, that they are a constraint on development". "If this narrative is not properly challenged," he said, "then neighbourhood plans will be set up to fail." "Overall, the planning system is still an open goal for developers," Bowden said. "They don’t need neighbourhood planning to be about delivering numbers too."

CASE STUDIES

The Newport Pagnell Neighbourhood Plan in Buckinghamshire, which was made in 2016, allocates sites for 1,400 new homes in the town by 2031, compared with about 450 earmarked in the 2013 Milton Keynes core strategy. Newport Pagnell Town Council, which produced the plan, has said the plan’s proposed provision of additional infrastructure to accompany the homes, notably more school places and health facilities, was a key factor in persuading the community to accept the higher housing target. 

Salford Priors Neighbourhood Plan in Warwickshire, which was formally "made" in July last year, plans for a minimum of 134 new homes over the plan period to 2031. In comparison, Stratford-on-Avon District Council gave its parish an indicative figure of just 84 homes. The plan says the homes are to allow village growth to support local services and meet local housing needs, and to "physically link the two separate halves of the village".

Neighbourhood Watch: Latest poll results continue to show strong support for plans

Waltham on the Wolds: Plan receives over 90 per cent approval rating

Latest referendum results continue to show a very high level of popularity for neighbourhood
plans, according to analysis by Planning.

Two referenda last week - both in the Leicestershire borough of Melton - provided an overwhelming vote in favour of plans. The Waltham on the Wolds and Thorpe Arnold neighbourhood plan was passed at referendum with a 92 per cent approval rating on a 51 per cent turnout, and the Nether Broughton and Old Dalby neighbourhood plan was approved with an 88 per cent approval rating on a 36.5 per cent turnout.

Analysis of referendum results shows that the average approval rating was 90.07 per cent across 21 referenda results during March 2018. As the table below shows, the highest approval rating was Pirton in Hertfordshire, which received backing from 96.7 per cent of voters. The lowest approval rating was at Holbeck in Leeds City, which nevertheless received a ‘Yes’ vote of well over three-quarters, at 79.2 per cent. Middleton on the Hill in Herefordshire was the only other neighbourhood plan which received an approval rating of under 80 per cent during March.

NEIGHBOURHOOD PLAN UPDATES

ADOPTION NEWS

West Yorkshire: The Holbeck Neighbourhood Plan was made by Leeds City Council on 9 April. A referendum held on the plan on 1 March resulted in 79.2 per cent of voters approving the plan on a turnout of 13.9 per cent.

The Longwick-cum-Ilmer Neighbourhood Plan was made by Wycombe District Council on 27 March. A referendum held on the plan on 8 March resulted in 92.8 per cent of voters approving the plan on a turnout of 37.7 per cent.

REFERENDUM NEWS

Leicestershire: A referendum held on 12 April on whether Melton Borough Council should make the Waltham on the Wolds and Thorpe Arnold neighbourhood plan received a yes vote of 92 per cent, on a 51 per cent turnout.

Leicestershire: A referendum held on 12 April on whether Melton Borough Council should make the Nether Broughton and Old Dalby neighbourhood plan received a yes vote of 88 per cent, on a turnout of 36 per cent.

Leicestershire: A referendum held on 29 March on whether Harborough District Council should make the Houghton on the Hill neighbourhood plan received a yes vote of 89.5 per cent, on a 30 per cent turnout.

SUBMISSION NEWS

Dorset: The Sturminster Newton Neighbourhood Development Plan was submitted to North Dorset District Council for its consideration on 6 April. Sturminster Newton Town Council submitted the draft plan, which will be out to consultation until 25 May.

Neighbourhood plan trumps land supply deficit in housing secretary’s Somerset homes refusal

Plans for up to 200 homes on open fields outside a Somerset village have been rejected by housing secretary Sajid Javid, following findings that the scheme would clash with neighbourhood plan policies.

Charles Church Developments’ planning application for the Farleigh Fields site on the edge of Backwell, a designated rural service village south of Bristol, was refused by North Somerset Council in June 2016.

The scheme went to public inquiry in March last year. Inspector Gareth Jones’s report to the secretary of state was submitted last July.

 In his decision letter, issued yesterday, Javid agreed with the inspector that only around a 3.9- year supply of housing land could be shown for the area. He also gave "very significant weight" to the scheme’s benefits, including 65 affordable homes within the development.

However, the secretary of state gave full weight to a core strategy policy stating that proposals for more than "about" 25 dwellings outside the settlement boundaries of rural service villages should be allocated through local or neighbourhood plans.

He recognised that the Backwell Neighbourhood Plan, adopted in 2015, does not state a specific quantum of new homes for the village. However, he concluded that references to sites where residential development would be supported meant that the plan, "when read as a whole", did allocate sites for housing.

On that basis, he decided that the December 2016 written ministerial statement on neighbourhood plans applied to the development. This stated that neighbourhood plan policies for the supply of housing should not be deemed out of date where the plan allocates sites for housing and the local planning authority can demonstrate a three-year supply of deliverable sites.

He also found that the scheme would significantly affect the village’s character and setting and would be "excessive in size". He concluded that the adverse impacts of granting permission would "significantly and demonstrably" outweigh the benefits.

A spokesman for Backwell Residents Association, which has been fighting the Farleigh Fields proposal for the past three years, said: "The result is a tribute to the spirit of the village."

Government hopes to publish draft NPPF revisions by the end of March

The government hopes to consult on the new revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) by the end of March, a senior civil servant at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has said.

17 January 2018 by Michael Donnelly

Jan 2018 Parliament: MHCLG chief appeared before committee on Monday The department consulted on changes to the NPPF in December 2015, but the timescale for revising the document has slipped. 

In July 2016, the former planning minister Gavin Barwell said that he expected to publish revisions to the framework in the autumn, after the government had previously indicated that the changes would be made in the summer. 

Speaking on Monday at a session of the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee, Melanie Dawes, permanent secretary Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), said that she wanted a consultation version of the revised document to be published before Easter. Good Friday falls on 30 March this year. 

Asked by committee chair Clive Betts how the government intended to bring together all of its planning policy changes "in a coherent sensible way", Dawes said that the department would "brigade as much of [the proposed changes] as possible in the new National Planning Policy Framework". 

Dawes said that she expected the document to be "ready for consultation in the next few months - I hope just before Easter or thereabouts". 

The civil servant said that the consultation would "include measures on which we have already consulted on as individual measures ... and also some measures announced in the Budget which are yet to be consulted on". 

"Following that final consultation we will publish and implement the new framework in one piece", she said. 

Measures announced in the Budget yet to be consulted on include a proposal to take allocated sites out of local plans where "there is no prospect" of a planning application being made for their intended use; and new policy whereby local authorities would be expected to grant housing permissions for land outside development plans on condition that a "high proportion" of the homes built are offered for discounted sale for first time buyers or for affordable rent.